Born: 2 November 1927, in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Died: 8 November 2014, in Wardington, Nr Banbury, Oxfordshire, aged 87
Audrey White was from an impoverished background, but went on to become a successful model, editor and author, was turned down for a BBC announcer’s job for being deemed “too beautiful”, established financial courses for women, worked for charities, and later became Lady Audrey Wardington.
Born in Bradford in 1927, Margaret Audrey White was an only child. Her father, a commercial traveller, left home when she was young and, following a move south at the start of the Second World War, was brought up by her mother, Eva, in North London. Audrey attended Henrietta Barnett School for Girls in Finchley and remembered enduring the Blitz with her cat, Luftwaffe, and later, while taking her School Certificate, sheltering under her desk during the early doodlebug raids.
Upon leaving school at 16, she wanted to become a nurse but found work with the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics salon on London’s Bond Street, earning one guinea a day. Doing all the menial, unglamorous tasks, White had the good fortune to be spotted by a client, Phyllis Digby Morton, editor of Woman and Beauty, who invited her for a photo-shoot for the magazine.
White never looked back as her modelling career took off. Described by one admirer as “a raving beauty… with a smile as fresh as spring and the playful eye of a puppy,” she became one of the best known faces of the 1950s, appearing in countless advertisements – pushing lawn mowers, ironing and smiling for toothpaste.
In a series of National Savings posters, she appeared in full bridal regalia, having fulfilled the job requirement of someone “young, charming and unsophisticated”.
In January 1951, the red tops headlined that the BBC had turned her down as a stand-in television announcer for being “too sophisticated and severely beautiful” and in case she “alarmed timid men from Wigan and country districts” with her beauty.
“She was just too distracting,” said one commentator, adding: “Could you watch Miss White talking about depressions over Iceland and absorb what she was saying?”
White had only applied for the job “as a lark” and was not disappointed, remarking: “The pay is pretty poor you know.” This minor hiccup was soon forgotten as she picked up other television work, appeared in three films and worked as an announcer on commercial radio. Appearing in newspapers and magazines, she was later the face of Dreft washing powder, announcing: “I always find time to give my nylons and undies that all-important nightly dip in Dreft.”
During this period, White dated the actors Jon Pertwee (the future Doctor Who) and Anthony Steele, before marrying, in 1953, Jack Dunfee, a theatrical impresario and a former, famous 1930s “Bentley Boys” racing driver. She had once remarked that her ideal man had to be tall, intelligent, about ten years older and preferably connected with the arts; he was 26 years her senior. They were the celebrity couple that the paparazzi pursued relentlessly, snapping and noting their every move.
The following year, she became fashion editor of Housewife magazine, staying for six years before taking the same job at Go magazine for two years. By this time her marriage had ended.
In 1964, she married Christopher Henry Beaumont “Bic” Pease, the second Lord Wardington, partner at the stockbrokers Hoare Govett and noted bibliophile. They moved into Wardington Manor, a medieval-Jacobean house near Banbury, Oxfordshire, and adopted their three children, Lucy, Helen and Will.
Lady Wardington had never really had to worry about money, but, following her husband’s heart attack, realised that she was totally ignorant about financial matters. This resulted in her establishing a financial management course called Capital and Savings Handling (CASH), dealing with savings, pensions and the stock market, and aimed specifically at women. She believed her aristocratic title added glamour and was also part of the reason for it running successfully for eight years.
In 1991, Lady Wardington was back in the news with the launch of a series of books called Superhints. In a bid to raise money for a hospice in Banbury that was caring for a former secretary, she hit upon the idea of famous people offering practical, everyday tips. She “simply wrote to about 3,000 people, asking them to donate a hint.”
Her connections ensured the book featured some big names. The series included general superhints for cooking, gardening and, finally, life; the latter had tips from Richard Briers, Jane Fonda and Cliff Richard. However, with a high percentage of the contributors being titled, their “hints” were often rather less practical than they were revealing of their authors.
The Marchioness of Northampton suggested using toothpaste to clean flies off the windscreen, while Lady Cobbold recommended paper knickers because “it saves washing and they are good for lighting the fire”.
Princess Margaret advised pouring white wine on to any red spillage on the carpet, leaving it for five minutes before clearing up. Lady Dashwood claimed that in order to pacify an angry child one should “whisper gently into his ear and he will stop crying to hear what you are saying. This is also 100 per cent effective with husbands.”
Even Margaret Thatcher chipped in with her cure for jet-lag: extend your day to 36 hours, if necessary, until it is night where you are.
Tragedy struck in 2004, while the Wardingtons were away on a cruise, when the manor caught fire following an electrical fault in the attic. Fortunately, their daughter Helen and a human chain of villagers rescued the priceless collection of rare books, including his unique collection of maps and atlases featuring the earliest printed edition, (1477, Bologna), of Ptolemy’s atlas. Perhaps due to the distress, Lord Wardington died shortly after in 2005, and she moved into a cottage in the middle of the village from where she continued her charity work.
The manor fully restored in 2013, Lady Wardington said: “the really maddening thing is that the kitchen was absolutely untouched. I would have liked a new kitchen.”